The Enleum AMP 23-R Review. It Left me Breathless.
By Steve Huff
With the AMP 23-R all parts are of high quality inside and out and Enleum calls this a “reference” amplifier. After some time with it in my system I can agree as this actually bested my reference front end with my speakers. Oh, and for 1/4 the cost and 1/8the the size.
Before I get all into what I feel about this little tiny powerhouse, let me back up a bit to what has come before it.
The amp that came before this is what made this one possible and that amp was/is called the Bakoon AMP 13R. When I saw it a couple of years back I really fell for its design, small footprint and lovely Red Urushi finished volume knob.
I fell for the looks and style but unfortunately I never was able to hear it in my own space. Being so small, I assumed (which is something I should never ever do) it would sound weak with only 25 WATTS into 8 OHMS. I assumed it was more of a gimmick product. One that looks amazing, is super small but average on audio quality. I guess I should never make assumptions.
The Bakoon AMP13R was surely a unique looking integrated amp. What is almost impossible to see here in this image is just how small this amp is. It measures only 9″ wide, 9″ deep and only 2.1 inches high. It’s kind of like another “Leica” of HiFi when it comes to design, small size and superb high quality of performance.
While I still have not heard that Bakoon AMP 13R what I can say is that if it sounded anything like the new AMP 23R, which is the follow up to the 13R, I was about as wrong as a person could be.
I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to test the new AMP23R and let me tell you, I have been listening to music like a madman simply because this little amp is the most addictive piece of HiFi I have encountered in a long long time. It’s so addictive due to its sound signature which is unlike any amp (integrated or separates) I have had through my system, regardless of cost. The way it produces instruments and voices is otherworldly as long as you are using the right speakers. In fact, I prefer the sound from the little powerhouse within my system more than my separates that cost 4X as much.
The Enleum AMP 23R still has about the same footprint as the 13R, but it’s taller now and uses special feet to avoid vibrations. Still has a world class head amp, two RCA Inputs and speaker outs. It is solid, stout and dense. It is all metal and with a Class A/B amp section. It offers up 25 WPC into 8 OHMS and 45 Watts into 4 ohms. It offers up a healthy 4 WPC from its unique headphone amp that is said to drive even the hardest and most exotic head cans. Phew. The price comes in at $6200 but this little guy performs to a level I have not experienced before with my system.
The new Enleum 23R does appear to be more hefty in weight than the older 13R. I wish they stuck with the Urushi volume knob but hey, this one is all knurled metal and feels amazing. There is still the click when you turn up the volume but this is cool as it lets us know you just upped the gain. This is not a Class D amp, but rather a Class A/B amp that gets pretty hot and as hot as a Class A amp. Due to the small size though, that heat doesn’t really fill a room like the Pass Labs Class A XA 60.8 amps do.
This is good, as summer is upon us right now. This little amp arrived just in time for me to listen comfortably in the summer. Let me be clear, it does run hot but that heat doesn’t effect my room temp due to the small surface size.
As for the volume control it is a bit different than most. The volume dial is really a gain dial. The knob ups the gain. You can even hook up your preamp to this and use it as an amp but I need to stress that using it as is without a preamp will bring speed, dynamics and slam that will best just about any preamp you connect. That has been my experience so far.
As it is this small box is extremely powerful and sweet sounding if you have easier to drive speakers. My Fleetwood Devilles are 94DB efficient and they are 8 ohm speakers. My Heresy IV Klipsch speakers are 99db efficient, and LaScala’s are 103 DB efficient. This little amp supplies enough grunt, juice, current, power and drive for all of them without even breaking any kind of sweat.
The System in Action
If you have speakers in the 85db range that dip into 2-4 ohms this amp may not be for you. I only tested it with my Klipsch Heritage and Fleetwood Deville SQ and it was absolute magic with both brands. In fact, I have not heard any of these speakers sound better with any other amplification. I mean, my Pass Labs and Cary setup ($25k retail) sounds superb with massive weight and punch but it doesn’t have the delicacy and finesse or all out magic of the AMP23R. That’s crazy and proves it’s not always the gear that costs more that sounds the best. It’s SYNERGY my friends.
Finding the right combo of pieces that perform to their best when put together. This is much harder than it seems and can take years for some to assemble a system just by trail and error.
The big guns (Pass/Cary) deliver a warmer more dense presentation through the Deville’s and Klipsch Heritage but the AMP 23R brings a crazy amount of serious magic that is missing from that larger combo. Details for example. With the AMP23R small obscure hidden details that I never heard now seem to float in space in the room. Music sounds ethereal yet it keeps the pacing, rhythm and timing down perfectly.
Airy treble, an absolute massive soundstage that is wide, tall and deep. The clarity is astonishing and it brought my Fleetwood Devilles to life in a way that was exhilarating and outright spectacular. There are dynamics for days, and the instrument separation is indeed special. This is the most “live” sounding amp I have heard in this system and it is scary good with Acoustic music as well. I mean SCARY good. Classical music and Jazz is also breathtaking.
The AMP23R has more “bite” than my Pass Labs but the cool thing is it doesn’t sound lean in the slightest. It doesn’t sound hard or bright. It doesn’t sound analytical or dry. It sounds sweet, ethereal, juicy yet with the speed and dynamics of the best in the world.
I would say that this combo of Fleetwood Deville, Denafrips Terminator II DAC and the AMP 23R leaves me wanting for nothing except to listen to more music. If one could not be satisfied with this setup, then it’s not about the music but rather the very real gear addiction that can take place within HiFi.
This is a true END GAME setup I have here.
VS BIG MONEY NAGRA?
The last time I had such an amazing experience like this was when I had the $60k retail set of Nagra electronics in the system. When I had the Nagra setup of Classic Amp, Classic Pre and Classic DAC I proclaimed it the best overall sound I have gotten from the Fleetwood Devilles.
Yea sure, that sounds fantastic but the prices for Nagra are reaching the insane level. Those were small pieces as well, but they packed a punch and sounded alive, detailed and rich.
With the AMP23R I am enjoying the sound a little more than I did with the Nagra and the cost is close to 10X less. THIS IS INCREDIBLE.
The AMP23R is not far off from the sound of the Nagra and in fact, I hear an improvement in the texture and layering as well as the mid bass and vocals. The Nagra was even more lighter and nimble on its feet, meaning sone of the mid bass was gone vs the AMP23R and this really makes such a difference.
It’s pretty rare that I come across a product like the AMP23R. While it’s a $6200 piece the competing Nagra INT is $20k and I feel this has a more ethereal and realistic alive sound than the Nagra. Build and feel is similar though the Nagra gear is more exotic in its styling and design.
Looking inside the AMP23R is a joy. It’s impressive. This integrated amp was designed in California but it is made in South Korea. The build, feel, remote and even packing and manual look and feel just as good as integrated that cost up to three times this price, it’s just smaller ; )
Super clean, neat and very well made/designed and engineered. The little AMP23R shows what its made of and why it performs at such a high level.
Build quality is impeccable as is parts quality.
As good as this amp is in the looks, build and sound department there are a couple of cons though. It only has two inputs and they are RCA only. So no XLR balanced connections. So depending on your needs this may even be a dealbreaker. For someone who wants a reference quality streaming system all you would need are sensitive speakers, a DAC and a streamer (or a Streamer with Dac). Add some cables and you are done. So this “con” could be a “pro” for some.
As for Con #2 it’s so small that when I hooked up my very heavy Cardas Clear Reflection speaker cables the front of the amp wanted to tilt up!
I had to guide my cables up and over my cabinet so this would not happen. I will say though that these Cardas cables are insanely heavy and large. They sound amazing but they are heavy and thick cables. This amp will sit better when used with lighter cables.
As for the cons, that is all I can come up with as I have fallen head over heals for this little integrated. I am only using it and testing it with speakers, as I do not have any special or high quality headphones to test with it (though that may change down the road).
The amp was sent to me to review by Enleum and when the email came in I was excited. Why? Well, because I instantly remembered the Bakoon AMP13R and the raves it received. When it arrived in such a small box I was also amazed. I told Debby as I unpacked it “No way this can get close to my Cary and Pass gear). There I was, making assumptions again.
When I hooked it up and fired up some music I knew it was game over. I knew this could not leave and I knew I would have to sell another piece of gear or two to fund it. It didn’t matter as I knew instantly that this little amp 23R was a PERFECT MATCH for my Fleetwood Deville speakers.
These speakers are my “End of the Road” speakers and they are with me for life. I listen to them ever day and they are so open, so full, so magical that no other speaker has gotten close for me. There are
This is the first speaker that has me fully content with my speakers and I am happy to shout that from the rooftops.
I thought I heard the Devilles at their best with the Nagra. Then the Cary SLP05 and Pass Labs amps. Now with the AMP23R I have learned this little guy is pure magic with the Devilles and I prefer its sound to the others in the system. This is wonderful as the Enluem costs much less than the other two options.
Normally when I review a piece of audio gear I sit and listen to familiar tracks that I know inside and out. I did this, and usually I listen for a minute or two and move on. Hearing these songs again and again and on so many systems, it’s easy to know when you have something special on your hands.
Before I knew it I had listened to the entire album “Les Concerts en Chine 1981” from Jean-Michael Jarre.
The entire one hour 18 minute album streamed through my Lumin U1 Mini Streamer. It sounded incredible with details emerging from all over the room, a deep bass kick that while not as deep as my Pass Labs and Cary setup, was plenty deep enough. The treble was more lively but this opened up the soundstage dramatically vs the Pass/Cary. As good as it was with the heavyweights, it was more holographic and see through with the AMP23R. Layering was evident and pretty spectacular.
The audience clapping and cheering sounded so real, it was as if I was in the audience watching this live performance. It was almost as if when I closed my eyes I felt the energy, sweat and stuffiness in the concert venue. Crazy.
The “Voice” of this amp is simply ADDICTING as it gets as it allows you to hear EVERYTHING and in a way that is a bit ethereal and organic. I’m talking notes hanging in the air, a walk in 3D soundstage, and precise imaging. Vocals are so pure and clean without the chestiness we get in some pieces of gear, so female vocals sound especially remarkable.
Again, the AMP23R is not as full or beefy sounding as the Pass and Cary, and it’s only putting out 25WPC so sensitive speakers will do the best with this amp. While it’s not as beefy sounding it is clearer, it is more fluid, it has a better pace and flow. It’s lit up a bit but this is what makes alot of the magic here. This is not a slow, sloppy, muffled kind of amp. It’s fast as lightning and with speakers like the Deville’s and even Heresy IV this opens them up in a way that many other amps simply could not.
If you have easy to drive speakers then you will be in for a treat when you hear the AMP23R in your system. Even after two weeks of daily listening I am still in a little bit of denial, or disbelief. I wish I would have heard this amp months ago.
Enleum calls this AMP23R a Reference amp, and I can say that it is reference even if the size is small and it doesn’t weigh as much as a tombstone. It proves again, just like Nagra does, that we do not need large, heavy boxes to create magical audio from our systems.
As for noise, it is completely and entirely non existent. This little guy is quieter than both the Pass and Cary pieces. It’s silent as it gets and while I use a PS Audio PP20 for power regeneration even when plugged in to the wall I hear no noise from the AMP23R or my Speakers being powered by it. I could not say the same for a few pieces that came through recently that buzzed, hummed and made offensive sounds. (They were sent back without review).
The feet are also pretty cool and unique. They now come with the AMP23R by default and I am glad they do this as this amp truly excels with these feet. They screw onto the bottom and keep the vibrations from entering the unit. As we know, vibrations are bad for audio. No need to spend a fortune on those fancy anti vibration feet for this piece as the three feet that come with it are top quality.
The remote is now ALL METAL and is the perfect size, shape and design, The function is simple as well with a volume up and down, an input switch and a power button.
FINDING THE RIGHT DAC FOR THE AMP23R
During my time with the AMP23R I tested it with three DACs (Update: NOW FOUR DACS) to see which one synergies the best with the rest of the system. When we change an amp and the sound changes then this means our DAC will not sound as it did prior. Every little change in an audio system at this level creates a change in the sound.
My reference DAC is the Weiss 501. I love this little box as it brought a studio master tape kind of sound to my system when I had the Standard Fleetwood Devilles. When I upgraded to the Deville SQ the Weiss 501 sounded a touch sharper to me but I still love this DAC and have found it to be one of the best I have tested, regardless of cost.
I loved the sound with the Weiss DAC 501 and AMP 23R. Nice.
I then tried a Lab 12 DAC and I had to remove it instantly as it sounded hard, thin and brought sibilance, Eek. It’s most likely that synergy thing reacting its head again.
When I inserted a Denafrips Terminator PLUS I was floored as it along with the speakers and AMP23R was bringing a sound that easily bested the above two options. The Terminator Plus brought even more air and a more impressive way of imaging and bringing details. It had a bit less mid bass kick than the Weiss 501 did but what it gained in all other areas was impressive.
This was the winning combo for my/this system. The Fleetwood Deville SQ, the Denafrips Terminator PLUS and the AMP 23R were all working together in a cohesive way that delivered truly phenomenal sound.
My senses were on overdrive as I listened more and more and while I was wishing for a little more mid bass kick I knew if I had this then I would be missing out on the lovely presentation that this setup was bringing. It wasn’t lacking bass in any way, but it just had less bass kick than the Pass Labs and Cary combo was giving me. Even so it had more life, more excitement and a more cohesive sound. It was about as close as I could get to the perfect sound I seek.
UPDATE: With the HiFi Rose 150B streamer the Enleum does very well. There is a bit more mid bass and it’s a touch more closed in that the Denafrips. The sound is now even warmer, thicker and has more kick. If you like this kind of sound vs the more detailed and expansive kind of sound, the ROSE 150B is one to check out for sure.
Keep in mind that this AMP23R is said to be improved greatly over the older AMP13R.
The upgrades from the 13R include:
- The Ensence Module: More attention to detail on the new circuit board design. Also this amp has zero negative feedback which allows the music to sound pure and sweet. ZERO NEG FEEDBACK brings more life to the music.
- JET2 Bias: This new version results in quite a bit better stability of the circuit.
- All NEW Power Supply: Now that the AMP23R is taller than the much more slim 13R there is an improved power supply that used to be reserved for the bigger more pricey amps from Bakoon. This brings much higher current VS the AMP-13R’s power supply. This results in an even better bass performance and rock solid reliability.
- Attenuator and Input Buffer: These circuits have been improved further still. Also, the number of microprocessor units has been reduced from three separate MPU’s to just one single MPU.
While I have always love the style of the 13R, after living with the 23R for a while I do now like the styling better as it’s more substantial but yet remains tiny and simple. Cleaner still and more balanced.
This piece from Enleum is very special. I call it SIMPLE MAGIC. I have had so many integrated amps in here through the last two years. Big ones, small ones, powerful ones, weak ones. I have had solid state, tube and SET amps in this room. I have tested big names, no names and exotic names. I have had $50k worth of amplification and $500 worth, all in the same room to compare. There is something very different and special about this integrated. As basic as it is, and as low powered as it is with only 25 WPC, it is doing things I have a hard time understanding.
I have a passion for this stuff and while many think its insane to invest money into a two channel stereo for serious listening, for some of us it’s a part of our daily life and routine. I know after a day of working I like to relax and sit down for a while to listen to my favorite tunes. I do this for hours and Debby (my wife) often joins me.
In fact Debby joined me one night so she could hear this little amp I was raving about. She has heard almost evert version of this system. I played a basic non audiophile track from Billy Joel. That track was “Vienna”. Not a sad song, or sappy song but a good under rated song. As the song was nearing the end I hear sniffles. I look over and she is crying! She then says “And I do not even like Billy Joel”! She then went on to say that it was “THAT LITTLE AMP” that made me cry.
She said the system never sounded like this, and it was very emotional for her. When I asked her to describe the sound she said it was “Ethereal, Beautiful, So Real”. She said it touched her heart and got to her emotions. She said she could hear what I described. The layers, the imaging, detail and the 3 dimensional performance.
Wow. Think about that. Usually our significant others never “get it” but she does, and she fully got it after this little AMP23R was in the system. I also think it was partly the Denafrips Terminator PLUS as well as both just work so well together.
Debby shedding tears during a listening session with the AMP23R in place. See the video at my instagram @stevehuffofficial
All of this Audio stuff is really about synergy. While the AMP23R is not the best amp in the world it’s one of the best if you have easy to drive sensitive speakers. Sensitive speakers and a healthy but lower power amp like the 23R is a recipe for SIMPLE MAGIC. It’s simple to get there but the magic is as serious as it gets. Much more magic than much higher priced amps have brought.
VS THE OVER PERFORMING KINKI EXM1
How about something like the Kinki EXM1 I reviewed not so long ago? That integrated was also solid state, class AB and came in at just over $2k or 1/3 the cost of the AMP23R. How does it compare? Well, the Kinki EXM1 is a true bang for the buck champion. Hard to find better for LESS, if not impossible. With that said, the AMP23R is more organic, more ethereal, has more dynamics, drive and life. It is no contest.
As good as the EXM1 is, the AMP23R is in another league but that’s the thing. The 23R is in the league of $10k-$15k integrated amps. Heck, if I can be honest? This thing sounds better than my old $27k Vinnie Rossi L2iSE.
What?!? YES! Again with the caveat that you have speakers that 25WPC can drive well. That Vinnie Rossi would do better if you had speakers that were harder to drive. So it’s all about picking the right pieces for maximum performance. Neither amp is “better” than the other, it all depends on your speakers and needs.
This amp makes the case for a few things.
- Simplicity. Small, one box, awesome design. Like a Leica Camera but in Audio.
- Saving Cash. It’s not cheap at $6200 but its reference and end game with the right speakers.
- Owning Sensitive Speakers can be amazing with the right amp, and this is the right amp.
- Pride of Ownership because of the entire package of build, parts, performance and even packaging.
- Owning a NICE STREAMER AND DAC is essential to get the most from your AMP23R.
I could easily recommend this AMP23R. I would recommend it as a start to a killer system. Buy the AMP23R, then some high quality easy to drive speakers, then a nice DAC/Streamer and some cables and then you are done. It’s small, light and brings the sound of those $20k amps into your room for a fraction of the cost.
While I have always loved SET amps (Single Ended Triode) for their luscious and big glowing sound this little AMP23R does have some characteristics of a nice SET amp. It’s lit up from within, it produces sound with an effortless ease and it has a big presence. It’s airy and holographic just like a great SET but what we do not get is tube buzz, humming, noise or extreme heat. No tubes to replace or worry about. No long warm up tome to start as it takes about 3-4 seconds to be ready to amplify your music.
As I said, the AMP23R is very special indeed. Pair it with the right speakers and you are truly golden.
UPDATE: After 3 months with the Enleum, and purchasing the review unit, I am still enamored with this understated and simple integrated amp. My big guns are still set aside, and I am not sure they will ever return to this system. This is one of the best sounding integrated amps I have ever heard or used for easy to drive speakers. With its small size, light weight and bespoke quality throughout this little amp will hang with the Fleetwood Devilles as a forever piece in my system. They go together like bees and honey.
I’m smitten, hooked and addicted to the AMP23R and so far this is my HiFi product of the year for 2022. You can read more about this amp at Enleum’s website HERE.
Listening to the track titled “Vinter” is just a beautiful and haunting experience. The Piano is so rich, and has the presence of a real piano. Every detail is heard as the speakers disappear and the sound is just “in the room”. Vocals kick in and add to the ethereal vibe. Listening at 1AM in a darkened room transports me into another time and space. It’s beautiful and I have not heard it sound better. On the same album I cued up “Leaves of Yggdrasil” and was treated to another haunting and surreal performance. It was not sounding like I was listening to speakers, rather a true performance.
This can show just how powerful this amp (and speakers) can be. It KICKS hard and has the bass and mid bass to kick you in the chest. It proves this little guy has some serous bass heft and power. The Fleetwood Devilles exploded with a clean, big, massive and rich layered sound that has me and Debby swaying to the rhythm. The entire song was presented in a fully cohesive and balanced manner. Again, the speakers disappear and we are left with a room full of sounds, vocals and instruments. We wanted for nothing more when it came to the sound reproduction.
Low Roar “Rolling Over”
I love Low Roar’s music but this album is my favorite from them. It’s called “Low Roar” and it is filled with very soulful well recorded songs that have a way of delivering emotion to us. Rolling Over is one of my faves here and with the AMP23R powering the system I am hearing the largest most vocal magic version of this song ever. The guitar strums are full of body here, and separated from the vocals which are dead center. The background vocals will haunt you as the come in from teh sides and fill ever corner of the room. This one is magical and again, never sounded better.
Some final thoughts on the Enleum AMP23R
While I can’t afford it right now, I am buying the review unit. I will have to sell a couple of older pieces I have here that are not getting used to acquire this but if I let it go back to the manufacturer I would kick myself. To be clear, it sounds better than anything I have tested with all of the speakers I own.
I have come to adore the quality of a sensitive easy to drive speaker with a lower powered amp. There is something about the experience. It is effortless, the music flows with ease. The sound is life-sized and vocals are pure magic. The amazing thing is the Fleetwood Deville SQ (or standard) do not sound like traditional horn speakers due to the way they were designed. They do not ever shout, sound hollow or have that cupped midrange. They are wide open, pure, sweet, and uber real when set up correctly. There is something about the conical horn they implemented for the tweeter that produces magic in this area. The mid/bass driver is also a pro quality driver and the bass on these speakers is just right for my tastes.
The AMP23R is capable of fully exploiting the quality of these speakers. It powers them to their full potential. Same with Klipsch Heritage.
It’s not often I see a product that is this special. I see it as a bargain at its price but I know it can be a tough pill to swallow for those who are not fully into the audio thing. One thing to remember is that all pieces together will create the magic but this AMP23R is a perfect start to a beautiful system. It’s a very Zen kind of audio piece and I can’t get enough of it.